The First Presbyterian Church of Chester

Nessley Chapel Cemetery
The First Presbyterian Church of Chester

Written by Ethelberta Shaw

The First Presbyterian Church of Chester was organized in 1900, but had its beginning several years earlier. In 1885, when East Liverpool was a thriving pottery town settled by workers from England, the area across the river in West Virginia was mostly farmland. There were orchards, corn and grain fields reaching from the river to the hills on the south and east with one road running through it from the Gardner farm on the south to the Marks property in the north. This early road known now as Carolina Avenue was a dusty and often-muddy country road and the main artery of transportation in upper Hancock County. Later it became part of the first coast to coast highway known as U. S. Route 30 or the Lincoln Highway.

There were a few homes on this level area along the river, which was called the south side. The Gardner-Pusey home built in 1839, a store and less than a dozen homes made up the main part of town near the ferry landing below First Street. But up river only a few homes dotted the wide farmland; the "Old Stone House", built by A.B. Marks in 1835 and still standing today; a house on the American Legion site, two on Middle Run near Fourth Street; one on Third Street; and the Melvina Gardner home out toward the river bank north of Fourth Street. To the residents of East Liverpool, "The City of Hills," this level land on the south side must have looked inviting as they trudged up the steep hills after a day’s work in the pottery because many families began moving across the river to West Virginia.

The Reverend J. C. Taggert, D.D. of First U.P. Church of East Liverpool and the Reverend J. Ross Green, pastor of the Second U.P Church who were concerned that their former parishioners had no church to attend enlisted the help of Frank White, Second Church Sabbath School Superintendent and their Young People Societies to cross the river and start a Mission Sabbath School. Transportation wasn’t always easy. When the river was low; before the days of dams; people could drive across by horse and buggy, but mostly people used skiff, boat or ferry.

The early meetings were held in a schoolhouse near First Street. The attendance was 43 and the average Sabbath School collection was one dollar and five cents. This was the foundation of the first church in Chester.

In 1898 these men, with the help of their Young People’s Christian Union Societies, raised sufficient funds ($1500) to establish a Mission Sabbath School. Mrs. M. M. Gardner donated a lot on Carolina Avenue and a building was erected where the present church sits. The frame building was built by the Finley Brothers Lumber Company, but like so much construction, there was a cost overrun and the final cost was $1912.72, of which $500 was debt. The building was dedicated December 1, 1898 and the debt was paid by the First U.P. Church of East Liverpool with a bequest of the estate of A.B. Marks. The chairs to seat the Chapel were a gift from the First Church also. These people continued to conduct the growing Sabbath School for the next two years.

It was an exciting time for the church and the town when the Gardner and Marks properties were purchased by Frank McDonald, an attorney in East Liverpool, who became interested in real estate and saw the level land across the river as an area of expansion for "hilly" East Liverpool. He planned to build a bridge at First Street and an amusement Park at Mark’s Run. He obtained backers and formed a bridge company. After many setbacks, the bridge was finished December 31, 1897 and soon families began to move from East Liverpool and Wellsville and buying homes in the new town.

The Sabbath School continued to flourish and preaching services were added by these two pastors, assisted by other neighboring pastors, until May 1, 1900 when the Reverend W. Bruce Gillis came as stated supply preacher until October 1, when he was appointed stated supply to Starkville, Mississippi. During the month of November Rev. Taggart and Rev. Green continued to preach.

A special meeting of Steubenville Presbytery was held in First U.P. Church, East Liverpool on November 8th, 1900. Thirty-one members and eighteen adherents signed and presented a petition which read:

"We, the members and adherents of the United Presbyterian Church, who for sometime have been working and worshipping in the United Presbyterian Chapel in Chester, West Virginia, would ask that we be organized into a congregation under your care. We make this request because we believe we would carry on the Lord’s work better if we thus organized. We make this request also for the reason that most of us have a better Presbyterian oversight under your supervision than any other Presbytery."

The petition was granted. Dr. Taggart and a provisional session were appointed under the order of Presbytery to organize Chester Mission Sabbath School into a congregation. The congregation would be under the direction of Steubenville Presbytery.

Another meeting was held in East Liverpool on December 31st, 1900 where Dr. Taggart reported: "Your committee appointed to organize a congregation in Chester, West Virginia would report that they have performed the duty assigned them on November 20th, 1900." Thirty-eight members were received on certificate and entered into the congregation. A. W. Nickle, E.A. Smith, J.P. Wylie, and J.N.Finley were elected ruling Elders. On December 7, 1900, Mr. Smith and Mr. Wylie were ordained and together with Mr. Nickle, who had been a member of the First U.P. Church Session, were installed as ruling Elders and constituted a Session. Mr. J.W. Finley declined to accept. On that same date, Reverend W.B. Gillis was called as Pastor. Mr. J.W. Finley, Enoch Riley, and Oliver Hall were elected as Trustees for one year.

When the call was moderated for Rev. Gillis, the congregation paid $500 and asked the "board of Home Missions" to give $400, agreeing to give a "Deed of Trust" or its equivalent to the Board as required by the application clause.

The year 1900 proved to be the real beginning of the community as well as the church, when the Rolling mill was constructed on the flat land between Carolina Avenue and the river at Sixth Street. It became the "American Sheet and Tinplate Company", hired over 500 men, and produced special black plate for stoves, stovepipes, furniture, and milk cans. It provided employment for church members and brought new people into the church.

At the May 1, 1901 Session meeting, Mr. D.W. White of Second Church East Liverpool, resigned and E.A. Smith was appointed to fill the unexpired term. At the September meeting Mr. A. M. Nickle offered his resignation as clerk, which was accepted and E.A. Smith was appointed to fill the vacancy. Mr. Nickle then asked for his and Mrs. Nickle’s certificates to return to their home church in East Liverpool. This was granted by the Session.

Mary E. Gibson, a musician and composer, was received into membership on January 1st, 1902. We still have one of her compositions entitled "The Hills of West Virginia." In June, J. Howard Maxwell and wife Minnie, of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Beaver Falls, came by certificates. At the same meeting, Joseph McCoy was appointed as leader of the choir.

In the early days of the church, the Session members felt a strong responsibility regarding the morality of its’ people. This was evidenced when a young lady from Xenia, Ohio, came to town for a visit. Some of her activities didn’t meet with the approval of the Session, so they interviewed the young lady and forwarded a report to her home church.

At the end of five years of ministering to the congregation, Rev. Gillis and his wife moved on, and Rev. Sankey was called as minister. Mrs. Sankey came by certificate from the New Kingston, New York, U.P. church in November 1905. The Church membership around this time was 115 and Rev. Sankey’s salary was $1000. In 1907, the he asked for a leave of absence. Because of his long absence, the Session wrote asking for his resignation-for the good of the church. Rev. Sankey resigned in 1908 and lived until 1939.


It was during Rev. Sankey’s ministry that the church began to look for a lot to build a parsonage. The Trustees reported that a lot on either side of the church could be purchased from the Land Company-one on the west side for $875 and one on the east side for $1000. Lots farther away could be purchased for $500-$600, but the members preferred the closer one on the west side of the church. The parsonage was constructed in 1906. It was a two-story house with a large porch across the front and around the side that faced the church.

Dissension arose within the church during the ministry of J.O. McConnell, and the Session resigned in a block. The cause of the trouble is not known; some said it was over politics, but Rev. McConnell said, "It was not!" He tendered his resignation at a congregational meeting, because he and the session could not get along, but the congregation refused to accept it. The Session resignations were received by Presbytery in April 1910, and a provisional Session was appointed consisting of Thomas Hinder of Second Church, East Liverpool; acting clerk; Willis Gaston of Calcutta; and J.E. Anderson of First Church, East Liverpool. Elmer Stevenson later replaced Anderson. These men served as ruling Elders; looking after the spiritual needs of the church, receiving new members and giving letters of dismissal when requested, until a new Session was elected in June 1911.

In 1912 Rev. McConnell resigned. Seminary students and Dr. H.C. Kelsey, minister at First Church filled the pulpit. He conducted Communion services on January 31, 1914 where several people were conducted into membership. Among them were longtime members as Mrs. Sarah Wright, her daughter Mabel Wright Haney, Walter Marshall, Fred Greenlee, Lester Shaw, John Harris, Frank Richmond and Bernice Shaw.

J.I. Moore came from the Seminary in September 1913, and was the first minister ordained in our church. The parsonage was getting some repairs and wasn’t quite ready for his family, so he, his wife, and 8 month old daughter Ruth, stayed with the George Richmond’s for two weeks. Rev. Moore, ordained on April 14, 1914, had a dynamic personality and many new ideas. The first was to persuade the Session that the choir needed to be replaced by a mixed Quartet composed of Mrs. J. Frank Rigby, soprano, Mrs. C.A.Smith, alto, Fred Dunn, bass, and Mr. Harris, tenor. These paid singers furnished the church with music for several months.

An interesting story is still being told about the piano and the rivalry between Dr. Pyle and C.A. Smith. The Doctor and his wife, whose home was across the street where the Post Office is now located, were active members. But, C.A. Smith, a prominent citizen who had made his money in the oil business, never attended church even though his wife sang in the quartet. When the committee, that was appointed to raise money to buy a piano, asked Mr.Smith to contribute, he refused until he was told that Dr. Pyle was willing to help. Mr. Smith, not to be outdone, said he would purchase the piano himself. When the big "Upright" piano was replaced by a Baby Grand Esty piano in later years, the "Upright" was used in the basement for Sabbath School until Frank Richmond purchased a spinet in 1968 for the remodeled basement.

During Rev. Moore’s pastorate, there was also a boy’s choir consisting of ten or twelve boys. Two of the best singers were Dave Harris and Frank Richmond. The choir formed at the back of the church and at a signal from Mr. Holliday, would proceed singing. One morning Mr. Holliday was absent and no one gave the choir the signal to proceed. They incurred the wrath of Rev. Moore, who said: "Frankie Richmond didn’t even have his book open!" Frank’s excuse was that he didn’t know the page. Some people resented the way Rev. Moore talked to the boys, but most of the time he was pleasant and popular with the congregation.

The congregation grew under J.I. Moore’s leadership and needed more room. The question arose as to remodel or build a new church. Mr. George Holliday, chairman of the building committee, reported to the congregation on the available money. He stated that the "Board of Church Extensions" would give $2000, possibly $2500, toward building a new church. The Trustees met with Architect Metch of East Liverpool, and Joe Finley, who had erected the white frame building. Mr. Metsch told them that at a cost of $3200, a basement could be added. However, the Trustees decided to borrow $3300 to build a new building.

The congregation voted to accept the plans drawn by Mr. Holliday, Chairman of the Building Committee, and an Engineer. There were no blueprints of the plans, so the sketches were referred to as the "White plans." The construction of the new brick church was begun immediately. The Committee reported they had received a grant of $2500.00 from the Board of Extension and borrowed $3000.00 from the Building and Loan. The total cost of the construction was $5116.47.

While the old church was being torn down and the new church built, services were held in the IOOF Hall over McCutcheon’s Drug Store at Fifth Street. After services moved back to the new church, J.I. Moore tendered his resignation on March 6, 1918, (to be effective on March 24) in order for him to accept a worthy call to Zanesville, Ohio.

Four months after bidding Rev. Moore goodbye, Paul Reynolds came from Vermont in July 1918, just as World War I was ending in Europe. His term here was one year and five months, while the "flu" was sweeping the country, and the church had to close for three months. He was released in December 1919 to go to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In February 1920, Thomas H. Newcomb came to Chester. He graduated from the Pittsburgh Seminary and was ordained on July 20th. He was a farm boy from Kansas, single, handsome, and very intelligent. He could converse with anyone. While there were a number of interested young ladies in the congregation, he married Naomi Finley of East Liverpool. Their daughter, Margaret Jane, was baptized here in 1923. Rev. Newcomb also taught Ancient History and English in Chester High School, which was in the building at Third Street. (later named the Central School) He organized debating teams, which met in the church. (Frank Richmond was a junior on one debating team and the teams always won.) In 1925, Rev. Newcomb left Chester to go to the First U.P. Church in Buffalo, NY.


During the ministry of Rev. Newcomb, the Men’s Bible Class had great fun putting on a biblical drama called "Saul of Tarsus. It was held in the IOOF Hall on December 16, 1921. Elzie Allison was the director. The cast consisted of 22 men and 8 women. Rev. Newcomb was Saul in the first act, which took place at the home of Judas, a Christian of Damascus. Scene two was the prison at Phillippi and Rev. Newcomb became Paul. Scene three was the Throne room of the Governor’s Palace. King Agrippa was played by Chas Davis, Edith Johnston’s father; a large man with a booming voice. Scene four was the Prison at Rome; Mr. H.C. Leeper was Ananais and Fred Greenlee played the part of Festus. There were 12 soldiers including Lester Shaw and his father, Albert Shaw. Frank Richmond was a messenger who jested with paper wads. It was an outstanding production with special music between acts.


At the 25th Anniversary Celebration, in 1925, the main speaker was Frank White, Superintendent of the First Sabbath School. The church pianist was Alva Frost and the choir director was Alice Stevenson. Rev. and Mrs. W. H. J. McKnight entertained the congregation at an evening birthday party.


In 1927, the most important milestone of the church was described in the East Liverpool Review of October 16…"Burning of the mortgage of the First United Presbyterian church of Chester took place yesterday morning, with impressive ceremonies, before a large congregation." Those participating in the actual ceremony were Miss Edna Frost, whose father had been a member of the Board of Trustees; F. M. Hawley, one of the first members to advocate a new building, and Sam Martin, the contractor. The congregation sang a song as the mortgage was burned on a tray held by Mr. Hawley. Letters were read from J. I. Moore and T. H. Newcomb, former pastors. Rev. McKnight commended the congregation for their efforts and achievements. Others taking part in the exercises were Miss Martha Moulden (granddaughter of the late Jerry McMillian who was a pillar of the early church), Miss Elizabeth John, and L. W. Bird. The sermon that evening was delivered by Rev. W. J. Grimes, D.D., Superintendent of Missions in Ohio.

Ray Davis was the pastor when the Billy Sunday Crusade was creating excitement in East Liverpool. The tabernacle at Second Street, built for Billy Sunday, was filled every night. The churches cancelled both morning and evening services to participate in the crusade. Rev. Davis, Cyril Taylor, Frank Richmond, and "Boom-Boom" Mercer sang there as members of a double quartet. Bob Mercer had a wonderfully deep bass voice- the reason for the nickname " Boom-Boom." Homer Rodeheaver, the famous singer, was song leader for the meetings.


The United Presbyterian Church of Chester had close ties with the Missionary work of the church. Dr. Joseph Maxwell, who joined by profession of Faith in 1902, served as a medical missionary in Egypt and Ethiopia. After he returned from the mission field he entered dental practice in Fairmont, WV. He later retired to Florida where he died in 1985. His daughter, Martha married Rev. Vandervort, pastor at Oakland Church until he retired in 1998.

Cora Smith also became a member in 1902, moved away later and went from the Presbyterian Church to a mission field in Chile, South America. A letter from Cora for the 50th Anniversary in 1950 told how four little girls, Anna, Cora, Clara and Virginia, inquired about the way to the Presbyterian Church and were directed to the U.P. church as "there was no Presbyterian Church." She credited the teachings of Rev. Gillis as the guiding influence in her life.

Ralph Frost and Clark Allison, both grew up in this church, and entered the ministry. Frost became a minister at a U.P. Church in Ohio, and Clark Allison became a minister in the Nazarene denomination. After retiring, Clark became the Chaplain at East Liverpool City Hospital.

Three of our ministers who went to the foreign mission field were Glen Fleming, Alex Wilson, and Milton Fisher. Two came to our church after they returned from the mission field, Willard Billica and Bradley Watkins. Donald Vogel left us to go to the national mission field.

In 1929, Rev. Vorhis came to Chester from Dayton, Ohio. His wife had died and he wanted to be near his children, who were living in Wheeling with their grandparents. He married his wife’s sister and their daughter; Mildred Rebecca was born in the Parsonage and baptized in the church.

Soon after Rev. Vorhis came to Chester, the "depression" enveloped the country, caused the Rolling Mill to fail and put many people out of work. (Church member Mr. Holliday, who drew the building plans for the church, was an engineer with the mill and moved with it to New Castle, PA.) Because of the depression, the congregation was unable to meet its’ obligation so the Rev. Vorhis voluntarily took a cut in salary. He was paid $1200, down from $1800. The depression passed. Then came the terrible years of World War II, when all men between the ages of 18-39 were drafted. Fortunately, all of the boys from the church returned safely.

Glen Fleming, another single man from the Seminary served the church two years. However, after he had been here one year he married Ruth in June 1939. The Flemings had an active group of young people and were very popular. They left to go to the Foreign Mission Field in Africa.

Alfred Martin followed Rev. Fleming in 1940. Rev. Martin served the church for five years. During that time he also preached at Tomlinson Run Church in Pennsylvania.

Rev. C. Howard Rank came to Chester from Wellsburg, West Virginia in 1945 and served until his sudden death in 1947. His widow, Carolyn, and son Don remained in Chester and have been active members in the Church.

From 1949 unto 1951, Alexander and Alma Wilson served the church while Alex was attending Geneva College. Through their efforts the Church was stirred with new activity. A "Young Adult" group was organized December 14, 1950, with Carl Stewart-President, Charles White-Vice President, Lois Taylor-Treasurer, and Marjorie Leeper-Secretary. In addition to having interesting meetings they did many projects to benefit the Church. In recent years the name was changed to the Fellowship Group. The Wilsons had an after school "Bible Club" which 115 children attended (forth to eighth grade). The children became very quick to respond when asked to quote various Bible verses.


The Church was 50 years old in 1950 and preparations got underway to celebrate. A new furnace was installed and the basement redecorated with just about everyone wielding scrub buckets and paint brushes. Rev. Wilson and the Anniversary Committee made plans and wrote letters to former ministers and former members. The Committee Chairman was Frank Richmond, assisted by Eva Leeper, Eva Shaw, James Elliott, Mrs. A. N. Dean, Mrs. Charles White, Bernice Shaw, Edith Johnston, Marjorie Leeper, Florence Temple, Alex Wilson and historian Marian Wible.

Dr. Joseph Maxwell, a former member and Missionary, spoke at the morning service November 12, 1950. Thursday evening Nov 16th, was an informal evening of renewing old friendships with J. I. Moore, W. J. Harper McKnight, Clark Allison and Ralph Frost. Many old friends came to greet these ministers and to eat birthday cake cut by Reverends Moore and McKnight. November 19th was the closing service with Rev. J. T.Vorhis speaking on Sunday evening. The 11 a.m. service was the Thank Offering Presentation by the women of the Maxwell Missionary Society.

In the fall of 1951, Alex Wilson resigned and the family moved back to the Philadelphia area with their three boys: Don, Paul and George, who was three months old. There they began to prepare for work in the foreign mission field.

Milton C. Fisher, a friend of Alex Wilson’s, came to Chester as a student Pastor. He had received theological training at the Reformed Episcopal Seminary at Philadelphia and graduated from John Hopkins University majoring in biblical Languages. He and Merilyn (a registered Nurse) moved into the Manse in March of 1952 and he was ordained and installed on July 18, 1952. Painting was his hobby and his Sunday evening "chalk talks" drew large audiences. He also served the Oakland Church in a "Yoked" ministry. Mr. Fisher commuted to Pittsburgh from Chester to attend Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary where he earned his Master’s Degree in Theology. Milt preached his final sermon here on Easter Sunday 1954 then they left with Martin, a small baby to prepare for the foreign mission field.

Marven Bowman, a student at the Seminary, served as student supply in 1956 and 1957 and lived in the Manse. He played the trumpet and preached excellent sermons. His favorite saying was "We’ve gotta’ get rolling." When he finished his schooling, the six-member Session considered calling him as Minister, but they couldn’t reach a consensus. They did permit the Bowman family to live in the manse rent-free until the Calcutta Church called Rev. Bowman as their Minister.

Due to the proximity of Chester to Pittsburgh, so many students came to this Church to begin their Ministry that it was jokingly referred to as "their post-graduate course." There were eight students: J. I. Moore, Thomas Newman, W. J. Harper McKnight, Glen Fleming, Alex Wilson, Milton Fisher, Marven Bowman and Robert Backstrom.


Remodeling the Sanctuary took place in 1957 during the ministry of Robert E. Backstrom, student pastor. The renovation included a new roof, acoustical ceiling tile, Gothic lighting, hardwood flooring, carpeting, communion table and pulpit. The theatre type seats, which had been there since the construction of the new church, were replaced by pews that were light wood and had cushioned seats. The folding seats had been noisy and uncomfortable, but even so, three members left the church rather than sit in "pews." The walls were painted a light green and the ceiling white. Also green robes were purchased for the choir to replace the faded purple robes. After months of meeting in the basement, a joyous Easter Service was held in the Sanctuary.


The Board of Trustees was quite diligent in caring for the church manse. They also remodeled the manse during Rev. Backstrom’s ministry. They consulted Ray A. Shaw, Architect and under his direction removed the large porch because it was rotten and too expensive to repair. The door from the porch to the dining room was closed, and the kitchen, which had six doors opening into it, was remodeled so more cabinets could be added. A closet was also added when the doorway from the kitchen to the entry hallway was eliminated. Architect Ray Shaw, who had grown up in this church, donated his services.


The United Presbyterian Church had evolved from being the Reformed Presbyterian Church and had some strict beliefs that differed from the Presbyterian Church. At one time they didn’t have musical instruments in the service, sang only Psalms, had no women elected to the boards, etc.

The Church union was complete when the Presbyterian Church and the U.P. Church united to become the United Presbyterian Church in 1958. Shortly after that union, the issue of the $2500 grant received in 1917 from the Board of Church Extension to build the brick Church, came to the attention of the Board of Trustees. The officers of the new union asked our Church to repay the money. The Trustees consulted an attorney and learned that they weren’t obligated to repay the money because it was a "grant." However, the Trustees agreed to pay the $2500 rather than fight it.

The new union made it necessary for the Missionary Society to reorganize as the Women’s Association with three Circles within it for group study.

The Minnie Maxwell Society, named for a former Sunday school teacher and mother of Joe Maxwell (a missionary), became the Maxwell Circle. The Fisher Circle was named for Merilyn Fisher, wife of Rev. Milton Fisher. The Shaw Circle was named for Alice Shaw, a member of the Maxwell Circle until her death in 1957.

In 1960, Donald Vogel became the first full-time minister in many years when he, wife Edna and daughter Cathie moved into the manse. Rev. Vogel had served as a Navy Chaplain in two wars. His tenor voice was an asset to the choir and he also started the Church newspaper, "The Christian Visitor." Edna Vogel took an active part in the Women’s Association. Cathie finished high school and graduated from West Virginia University. Edna’s Mother, Annie Clementson, lived with the Vogels after the death of her husband. She was deaf, and Edna conversed with her in sign language. Mrs. Clementson passed away while living in Chester. After seven years the Vogels left Chester to work in the "West Virginia Mountain Project" mission field in southern West Virginia.


Once a month the staff of the Christian Visitor meets to print the church newspaper, which was started by Rev. Don Vogel a few months after his arrival in 1960. He began, after getting a couple of volunteer typists, to have a church newspaper ready the first Sunday in May, 1961 and given out after the close of the service. Marjorie Wine and Betty Stewart were the typists. However, the next spring Betty took a job and Betty Shaw became the new volunteer typist in June. Esta Johnston suggested the newspaper be called "The Christian Visitor" and that became its name. It included news accounts of coming events, birthdays of the month, the Treasurer’s report, the sick and injured, the Pastor’s Report, and "Chester Chatter" about the comings and goings of church members and visitors.

The staff alternated monthly between the Shaw and Wine homes. They began to work at 9 a.m. with three typewriters clacking away. Rev. Vogel wrote the stories and the two typists cut the stencils. After lunch they loaded the typewriter and stencils in the cars and drove to the Church to mimeograph the current issue. It was Marjorie’s job to crank the mimeograph machine, and the others assembled the papers. Edna Vogel came over from the manse to fold. Marjorie wrote the names on them at home and mailed some to the out-of-towners. The other Christian Visitors were distributed the following Sunday after the service.

When Rev. Vogel left in 1967, it didn’t take long to realize the staff needed help. Judy Doughty volunteered to help with the typing, and the task of composing the articles became Marjorie’s job.

Two years later Rev. Willard Billica became the pastor, to the delight of the staff, because he had publishing experience. He had been a missionary in Africa in the Sudan where he had been manager of the Spearhead Press in Malakal and also editor of "Light" magazine. After he had been in Chester a year or two, a few people knew he was planning to remarry, but he had made no formal announcement. He did give the "Christian Visitor" staff permission to announce his wedding plans in the April issue of 1971, which was a big scoop for them.

That spring another typist, Betty Shaw was unable to work on the paper. The staff was soon enlarged by the assistance of Audrey Schmidbauer, Joy Galicic, and Clara Dunlap, with Marjorie Wine continuing as "Editor". Soon after, a modern copier replaced the old mimeograph. No more ink-stained fingers and a neater publication.

Judy Doughty, after twenty years, had pressing family responsibilities and had to quit. So once again the Christian Visitor staff was reduced to three people: Editor-Marjorie Wine, Printer-Joy Galicic, and Artist-Bonnie Ryan. The congregation is indebted to these diligent workers for giving them the church news in "The Christian Visitor" every month for thirty-nine years. Special appreciation goes to Marjorie Wine who did the bulk of the work all that time. She retired in August 2000, due to health reasons.


While Rev. Vogel was still the Minister, the Board of Trustees felt the Church building needed some remodeling. They hired Architect Ray A. Shaw to design the changes and take bids from contractors. However, the lowest bid was $40,000. The congregation voted to accept the bid, but by such a close margin that Rev. Vogel said that Presbytery wouldn’t give permission to proceed. The older members, nearing retirement, voted against it, because they thought it would be difficult to pay off that sum of money.

But, at a lower cost of $25,000, the dreary basement was remodeled. The heating system was upgraded to a new gas furnace with a forced hot water system. The ceiling was lowered and new classrooms, kitchen, restrooms, and office created a bright cherry atmosphere.

In 1968, when remodeling of the basement was finished, the congregation celebrated with a congregational dinner in the basement. Don and Edna Vogel returned as honored guests.

Rev. Willard Billica, a returning missionary, came in 1968. He was installed on May 25th, 1969. His experience as working as a printer in the Sudan, was put to good use by the Christian Visitor staff. He and two others started the FISH program in Chester. And he gave us the candelabras that are used every Christmas season and started the custom of lining the walkways with luminaries. The luminaries, made with candles lighted in plastic jugs were new to Chester, now every church in town uses them. In 1971, Rev. Billica married a family friend, Enola Pottinger of Pittsburgh, which gave the congregation another occasion to celebrate with a cover-dish dinner and to give the newlyweds some wedding gifts.

Rev. Billica held the last Evangelistic Services in the church with Reverend Patterson, a native of Wales, delivering the week of sermons. After Rev. Billica planned and helped us celebrate our 75th Anniversary in November, he retired December 31, 1975 to Smarthmore, Pennsylvania, and died August 6, 1988.

The Church was without a minister from January 1976 until October of that year when Bradley Watkins was installed as pastor on October 17th. The committee of Presbytery officiated, with Robert Richmond, an Elder in the Church participating in the service. Rev. Watkins and his wife, Martha came from Manhattan where he had worked as Executive Secretary of the Translation Department of the American Bible Society. Bradley had been a missionary in Egypt for 24 years, from 1944 to 1966. Their home was filled with many memories of their years in Egypt. Rev. Watkins was a native of Pittsburgh, and has family living there. After the many years of travel and living in New York City, he remarked that he "felt as if he had come home," since Pittsburgh is so close to Chester. Brad and Martha were an asset to the Church and the Church program. Martha entered into the Women’s program, and Brad preached excellent sermons on the Bible. One member said, "He made a person think." Brad also speaks fluent Arabic and is a gifted musician whose ability to play piano filled a need in the Church service many times. Their daughter Virginia was a concert pianist who gave a recital in our Church. He was our minister until he retired from the Ministry in the fall of 1980, when he and Martha moved to New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. Martha died in 1990 and some Church members attended her memorial service.

Once again, a pulpit committee was formed to find another minister while Seminary students conducted the Sunday services. The committee didn’t have an easy task because we were a small church and most ministers wanted larger congregations. After searching for eight months, Bradley Huff accepted the call. He had served two churches in the coal mining area of Virginia. He moved into the Manse on December 15, 1980 with his wife Jean and daughter Lisa. Another daughter, Sarah, was born while they lived in Chester. During Brad’s ministry the Allen organ purchased by Mrs. Pyle was replaced by a larger digital computer organ, which was purchased at the cost of $14,000. Rev. Huff resigned and preached his last sermon on December 31, 1987. The family moved back to Marianna, Florida. He resigned from the ministry in September 1989 to join his father in the automobile business.

During Brad Huff’s ministry, the United Presbyterian Church united with the Southern Presbyterian Church to form the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

After Brad Huff left, James McCollum, a retired minister from East Liverpool filled the pulpit as stated supply for two years.

Once again a pulpit committee was formed. One Sunday the committee went to Wellsburg to hear John Cheetham preach at the Methodist Church. John was expecting to move to another Church out of the area, but his wife Debbie was seriously ill and wanted to stay in the Panhandle to be near her doctors. To do this, John had taken classes at Pittsburgh Presbyterian Seminary so he could become a Presbyterian minister. He accepted the call and moved to Chester in the fall of 1989. Rick, his son was still in high school and Debbie was an invalid. She passed away in the Manse five years later. Rick joined the Army after high school graduation.

During Rev. Cheetham’s ministry a new roof was put on the church and manse. Also, the plaster on the wall behind the pulpit began to crumble so the entire wall was covered with wood paneling. Rev. Cheetham started the "shepherding" program whereby Shepherds were assigned a section of the congregation and kept him informed about the members. He was a member of the choir and often sang solos. His hobby was working with wood and the wooden cross in the choir loft is his gift to the Church.

John met a former classmate that he hadn’t seen in thirty years. They married February 15, 1995 and he resigned his Chester charge January 10, 1996 to take a double charge in the Dayton, Ohio area.

Again a pulpit committee was formed to search for a new minister but had no success, mainly because there were so few ministers looking for churches. The membership of the church had decreased because so many young people had to look elsewhere to find jobs.

Jerry Rose, a lay pastor from East Liverpool was appointed as temporary supply. Once again, Alex Wilson was helpful. When he was told that Jerry was well liked and doing an excellent job, he advised the committee on how to proceed to get Mr. Rose appointed as "Lay Pastor." That was accomplished and Jerry has been here 4 years, doing a fine job. Jerry was a huge help with the planning of the 100th Anniversary held on November 12, 2000.


Music is an integral part of Church services, but small churches have a difficult time finding enough singers for the choir, parishioners also frowned on paid singers because they believe people should use their talents freely for the good of the church. Other than the six months with a paid quartet, both singers and pianists volunteered their services or were paid a token amount. Joe McCoy was the first person in charge of the music followed by many others. The more recent choir directors were Frank Richmond for 25 years; Mrs. Ray Shaw organized the Carol Choir in 1949 and in the 1960 organized a Children’s Choir; Esta Johnston directed two choirs during the 1970’s a children’s choir and a girl’s choir. After Frank retired, Mrs. Shaw became the Adult Choir director.

Pianists were scarce, however Gertrude Richmond was the pianist when Mrs. Pyle offered to buy an organ in memory of her husband, Dr. Pyle, providing Gertrude would play it. In 1958 when the new Allen Organ was installed the company offered free lessons. So Gertrude made many trips to Pittsburgh and spent many hours practicing to be able to play for the Church services. Others who followed were: Cathie Kirkbride, Paul Nardo (a high school student), Jan Stover, Evelyn Talbott, Ralph Falconer and the present organist Marwynne Serafy.

When the Esty Baby Grand was purchased in 1925, the Missionary Society raised most of the funds to pay for it. That Baby Grand is still used today-75 years later, but the Mahogany wood cabinet was refinished this year.

Mrs. Serafy purchased chimes and organized a Chime Choir in 1995. She also purchased new robes for both the Adult Choir and the Chime Choir in time for the 100th Anniversary Celebration on November 12, 2000.


A history of the Church is more than statistics recorded in a record book. It is about the people who gave it life. As we look forward to beginning the next hundred years we have only two members who remember the early days of the Church: Mabel Wright Haney and Frank N. Richmond.

Mabel Haney came with her mother and siblings from Clinton, PA in 1907. She is a patient at Fox Nursing Home now, and recently celebrated her 100th birthday with her family in attendance.

Frank N. Richmond first came to Church when he was 2 years old and had been coming for the past 93 years. He has always served the Church in some capacity. First in the young boys choir (about 1915), as the janitor, teacher, Trustee, Elder, clerk of Session, Sunday School Superintendent, and Choir Director for 25 years. He was a member of a mixed quartet with Mrs. Higgs, Edna Frost and Blaine Cochran that sang at funerals. He was a member of the boy’s choir when they sang over KDKA, Pittsburgh in the early days of radio.

The Richmond family moved to Chester from Pennsylvania and his parents and brother Ernest joined the Church in 1908. George Richmond had a grocery store and Frank would deliver groceries in the truck, converted from a car, when he was only 14 years old. He and his father delivered groceries to households where people were ill with the flu during the epidemic. Miraculously, neither of them were stricken, but Frank’s sister Bertha was dangerously ill for some time. When the truck didn’t have the power to make it up Catholic Hill, Frank would go up backwards. One of his frightening moments was when the brakes failed. At that time the streetcar came out Third St. from Virginia Ave. and made a turn to the right at Temple’s Garage to go up Carolina Ave. What if the streetcar had appeared just as he went down Third St. hill? But he was able to coast to the side door of the garage without hitting anything.

Rev. McKnight persuaded Frank to attend Westminster College in New Wilmington, but college isn’t for everyone and Frank stayed until Christmas vacation and then got a job at the First National Bank, where he worked for 62 years. He married Gertrude Shaw in 1929. Frank got his love of raising Dahlias from his father who had dahlia gardens, and Frank supplied the Church with beautiful bouquets every fall. He is a member of the East Liverpool Dahlia Society and won many ribbons with his blooms. He continued to sing in the Church choir until he was 90 and his tenor voice has been greatly missed. (But he can still be heard when we sing the hymns.)

The first Seminary was built on the farm of Frank’s paternal grandmother-the Hunter farm near Service Church in Pennsylvania. When the building was torn down, George Richmond kept some of the wood with which he used to make such items as canes, rolling pins, crutches, and other items. He often gave such items as gifts to ministers.

The Wells Family is still represented in the membership by two daughters of Eva Wells Leeper. Marjorie and Ed Wine; and Dorothy and Nelson Campbell have taken active roles in the Church. Marjorie and Dorothy have both taught Sunday School classes and held offices of various Church organizations. Ed served as Sunday School Superintendent in the children’s department for 25 years and is still Superintendent of the Adults. He also sings in the choir and plays in the chime choir. Nelson Campbell was on the Board of Trustees for many years and after retiring still works around the Church. He is responsible for the lighting of the Candelabras and Luminaries on Christmas Eve.

Lucinda Oyster’s mother, Georgiana Allison was a charter member and her daughter Lucinda was a member and very active her entire life. Lucinda’s son, Jess has been a trustee many years and his ability to work with wood has served many purposes. Still being used and appreciated today, is the "ramp" he constructed from the back for folks who have difficulty with steps. Jess’s son John is an Elder and Jess’s wife, Gladys is active in the Women’s Association. Josh Oyster, John’s son, is also a member.

The Shaw Family is still represented by granddaughters Bonnie Parson and Alice Stivason and daughter-in-law, Ethelberta Shaw, widow of their son, Ray (Nick) Shaw. Albert Shaw joined the Church in 1912, and served as a Trustee nearly all the rest of his life. Alice White Shaw joined by letter from Second Church East Liverpool in 1907. She taught Sunday School for many years, belonged to Missionary Society and was willing to entertain visiting ministers at Sunday dinner. Her husband Albert Shaw joined in 1912. He served on the Board of Trustees and played Santa at Christmas parties. Mr. Shaw’s mother Mary, and sister Eva moved their letters from Second Church in East Liverpool in 1922. Eva Shaw taught Sunday School more than 20 years and was Primary Superintendent. Bernice Adams, daughter of Albert and Alice held many offices including Secretary of the congregation and Treasurer. Her husband, Lee Adams, was a choir member and an Elder. Five children and eleven grandchildren received their religious training here at the First Presbyterian Church.

The outside of the church hasn’t changed much since the ivy was removed many years ago, but the Silver-Maple trees created problems when the roots got into the drainage system. The decision was made to have the trees removed in 1997 and young Dogwood trees were purchased with money from the Memorial Fund and planted in 1998. With the newly erected sign on the lawn showing a picture of the original church proclaiming to all who pass by that the First Presbyterian Church was the first established church in Chester and with five former ministers returning, we are ready to celebrate the 100th anniversary on November 12, 2000.

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